Originally created 08/06/99

Officials inspect silo fire



MONETTA -- It will take sev-eral weeks to determine what caused an explosion that ripped the roof off a concrete silo and injured 10 Amick Farms workers.

Engineers from an Atlanta company, along with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, inspected the 10-story structure Wednesday but could not tell whether the $1 million storage bin was salvageable.

Late Wednesday, a team of experts at the silo decided to let the corn inside it smolder.

The theory is that the material eventually will burn itself out. After lengthy discussions, the team decided against using carbon dioxide to extinguish lingering internal fires for fear that the silo would become more heated.

"Our obligation is to put people first," said Bill Amick, chairman and CEO of the poultry processing company off South Carolina Highway 23.

Until the material burns away, the area around the bin will remain barricaded until state and local authorities give the OK to examine it thoroughly. During the wait, company officials will work closely with Kansas State University, a school known for its knowledge in feed mill technology, to devise a plan for preventing a recurrence.

Meanwhile, one of seven men taken to Columbia Augusta Medical Center, Luiz Perez, was released from the burn unit, said a spokesman for Amick Farms.

The conditions of the other victims range from fair to critical condition. Their injuries include second- and third-degree burns and smoke inhalation.

An eighth man, Francisco Perez, was listed in critical condition at Columbia's Palmetto Richland Memorial.

The men were hospitalized Monday when the explosion blew out the top and bottom of the silo, which held 15,000 bushels of corn. A fire had been burning in the silo since the previous Saturday.

Firefighters doused the inside of the silo with water, but did not extinguish the blaze completely. Instead, the silo was closed to allow the fire to burn out on its own -- essentially what the experts are advising now.

Mr. Amick did not say what is being done differently this time to keep it from exploding again.

Chasiti Kirkland can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.